As a distance runner who competes in ultra-marathons, John Beebe was looking forward to running on the rubberized track this summer at Masich Place Stadium when it finally reopens in July.
That’s not going to happen for Beebe.
This summer, the city-owned and operated facility will only be open to the public from 6 a.m.-1 p.m. on weekdays, which totally conflicts with Beebe’s work schedule.
He says the city failed to learn its lesson from last year when a plan to staff Masich only in the morning hours on weekdays prompted a public outcry. After a fitness coach launched a petition complaining about limited access, the city rethought its plan and agreed to extend the opening hours into the evening. Now, Beebe says the same problem exists.
“City manager (Kathleen Soltis) is pulling it again,” said Beebe. “She says it is an elite facility that nobody’s allowed to use and should now only be available to a select few user groups.
“If you go there yourself and step foot on that turf field, the city worker kicks you off it. The city mandate is accessibility for all, to be more active, but they put not only a 10-foot-high fence around that facility but also around the PGSS fields they now control. That fence goes all the way around.”
On Thursday, Beebe emailed Mayor Lyn Hall asking why the city is not staffing Masich during the afternoon and evening hours, pointing out that city planners last fall had already budgeted for a second shift. In the letter, Beebe expressed concerns that some of the athletes training for the Summer Games will lose a full year’s training due to the reduced schedule at the stadium.
“There’s COVID right now and I get why the club might not be training, but our individual athletes can’t even access the track in the evening to train for their events,” he said.
Construction is continuing at Masich to upgrade change rooms, lighting, concession facilities and improve accessibility to prepare the stadium for the 2022 B.C. Summer Games and it won’t reopen until those projects are complete and the required COVID-19 safety protocols are in place.
“The reduction in hours of availability at Masich Place Stadium this year are strictly due to staff reductions due to Covid-19,” said Mike Kellett, the city’s senior communications officer. “These are not meant to be the permanent hours of the facility - just for this year.”
At the June 15 council meeting, Gina Layte Liston, the city’s director of infrastructure and public works, explained that there are seven fewer workers in her department due to budget cutbacks tied to the pandemic. She said limiting Masich oversight this summer to one single shift reduces the number of staff taken away from other tasks such as weed and garbage control, lawn mowing in parks and boulevards and general parks maintenance.
“Regarding the Public Track Walking Program, once the facility reopens after construction, a plan will be put into place that will allow walkers to begin utilizing Masich Place Stadium with enhanced safety protocols,” added Kellett. “This will include signage, entrance/parking lot restrictions, physical distancing on the track, monitoring of participants in the facility, education, sanitation of touchpoints, and enhanced cleaning of washrooms.
“To operate the facility and meet the provisions of the safety plan, it will be necessary to move staff from the workgroups that they have been assigned to this summer season back to Masich Place Stadium.”
City counselor Kyle Sampson, at the same council meeting, pointed out that the stadium operated for years without a city staff member on site and questioned why that suddenly became necessary two years ago after a turf field and running track was installed as part of the $4.8 million project. Ever since then, the city has kept a staff member in place during the hours of public use over concerns about vandalism. Beebe argues that vandalism not likely to happen when people are present.
Beebe also questions why the city insists on keeping the soccer fields at Rotary Field locked, surrounded by a chain-link fence which shuts out drop-in users who might want to kick a soccer ball around. He runs by the fields every day and says city crews are there daily either cutting the grass or fertilizing or weeding the fields.
“My son played selects soccer all these years and we are the only city that keeps 10-foot high fences around our fields and locked,” said Beebe. “If you go to Kamloops, Kelowna, unless it is a university field that’s kept locked, or Surrey or Burnaby, it’s a three-and-a-half-foot fence with non-locking gates. Everything here is completely locked up. When I was on the (Prince George Youth Soccer Association) board I asked why kids can’t go there after school to use those fields and I was told, ‘well they might destroy it.’ They’re just dead against it and it’s always been that way. The city is there working on those fields every day. They are in pristine condition and they’re not going to be used at all this year.”